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Coates: Strategic human resources to achieve company goals - Introduction

Strategic human resources to achieve company goals

This Case Study highlights the significance of strategic and carefully developed approaches to HR to the achievement of a company's long-term goals.

As a result of reading this Case Study, the student should be able to:

  • Understand the inter-relationship between company goals and effective HR
  • Analyse fundamental factors in the development of employees
  • Identify specific programs that engage and develop employees


Imagine trying to plan a big event such as the Commonwealth Games.

The Coates Way

How does Coates go about achieving this vision?

The HR function at Coates

The HR function at Coates operates at both corporate and business unit level.

HR strategy at Coates

Coates has developed the Performance Development Plan (PDP) for employees.

Engagement: happy to stay

Employee engagement measures the commitment employees have towards the business.

Develop our people: employee development at Coates

The Coates Way provides a firm direction for the business.


Coates, through the implementation of the Coates Way, is a company clearly focused on the future.

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Imagine trying to plan a big event such as the Commonwealth Games. What equipment would be required? Where would it come from? Coates is Australia's leading general hire company, providing a full range of industrial equipment, including the portable power generators and road control signage used at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Coates - Strategic human resources to achieve company goals

Coates has 120 years experience, uses a comprehensive branch network (180 in all) and employs over 2000 people. The business supplies a wide variety of markets including engineering, building construction and maintenance, mining and resources, manufacturing, government, and events.

Coates aims to build a better future for all. Like all successful public companies it has in place a vision that it strives to achieve through its business plans, policies and practices. By 2010, Coates aims to be the $1 billion hire company of first choice for customers, employees, shareholders and suppliers.

In order to achieve this goal, Coates needs to engage its people and deliver a positive employee experience. Put simply, people who work for the business need to enjoy working with Coates, understand why they are there and what they are working towards.


The Coates Way

How does Coates go about achieving this vision? A key strategy is to engage its employees to achieve the company goal. Through human resource management, Coates provides a positive employee experience under an approach called the Coates Way. The Coates Way is a cultural change program that ensures all employees have a consistent, clear and simple message that states where Coates is going and how they will get there.

The Coates Way, which was developed in 2004, provides the strategic direction for the company. It is designed to ensure that all employees, whether they work in head office or at a regional branch, understand how the company's vision, purpose and values apply to them on a day-to-day basis. Explaining the company's overarching goals creates a strong focus for employees.

The aspects of the Coates Way

  • Why we exist as a business - The Purpose
  • Where the business is heading - Our Vision
  • How we will get there - Our Critical Success Factors
  • What behaviours are expected - Our Values

The company has developed four critical success factors to measure achievements and determine the success of the company and of individuals. These are the things Coates and its employees must focus on in order to turn the company vision into reality. The critical success factors are:

  • Commit to our customers
  • Develop our people
  • Manage our fleet
  • Grow our company.


The HR function at Coates

The HR function at Coates operates at both corporate and business unit level. The corporate HR office is responsible for setting overall HR strategic direction and monitoring organisational effectiveness at a group level whilst supporting the HR managers in the business units. The HR managers of the individual business units implement the strategic direction within their business units, are responsible for day-to-day HR responsibilities, and provide feedback to the corporate HR team. Human resource management is critical to achieving company objectives.

The goal of the HR team is to implement and improve HR systems that support the purpose of the business and its vision and values, by developing and delivering a range of HR initiatives that support the critical success factors.
Within the context of the Coates Way, the second factor, 'Develop our people', is clearly supported by the HR function. Coates has committed considerable energy, resources and time to developing its human resources managementprocesses in this area. Developing employees is one of the ways in which the
HR department assists the business to achieve its vision.


HR strategy at Coates

While the Coates Way provides an overall strategy for the company, each function area, such as HR, must develop its own complementary strategy that aids the business to fulfil its vision. The HR department at Coates has set in place a strategic intent. It is: 'Our investment in people today will sustain financial performance and growth in the future'.

This intent sees the many and varied activities of the HR department clearly aligned to the company's overall goal and purpose.

A set of expected and concrete outcomes has been developed from the strategic intent. These set out what the HR department must achieve. These are to:

  • Positively influence employee engagement with more employees striving
    for Coates
  • Develop and leverage the capability of our people (at all levels)
  • Improve workforce flexibility and organisational effectiveness
  • Enable employees to experience a working environment reflective of the Coates Way and a culture of safety, which will attract and retain the best performers.

The aim of the outcomes is to create a company culture where employees are committed to fostering the company vision. Coates aims to do this by providing the necessary training and support in order to develop employees' careers and skill sets in a safe environment. Excellent training and clear and measurable goals will improve how effectively people do their jobs. Essentially, Coates wants people to understand exactly what is required of them, enjoy their jobs and be good at them!

Coates aims to build a performance culture and there is a range of ways in which its HR function implements and reinforces the Coates Way to work towards achieving its vision of being the hire company of choice.

Implementing the Coates Way

Coates has developed the Performance Development Plan (PDP) for employees. This is not merely a meeting between managers and employees. It is designed to encourage staff to incorporate the aspects of the Coates Way in their daily work practices. The PDP reaffirms the Coates Way, provides the opportunity for feedback and assesses employees' behaviour against acceptable standards of performance. Performance criteria are designed to be easily measured, relevant and related to aspects of objectives that the employee can directly influence in their roles.

The PDP is about knowing the company and what is expected, to what standards and with what behaviours. It is about committing to performance objectives and being accountable, identifying opportunities for continuous improvement and formalising assessments at least once a year. PDPs also recognise staff achievements and invests in those employees who can make a difference.

Coates has also developed a Person to Position Profile (PPP) which considers the extent an employee demonstrates behaviours supportive of theCoates Way, outlines the expected standards of performance in their role, allows for self and manager assessment (which can be incorporated in to the PDP), and identifies the areas of expertise essential for an employee to perform at the required standard within the role. This PPP can be used as a tool for employee career development and recruitment.

To reinforce the Coates Way, Coates has conducted 2 follow-up sessions - Commit to our Customers and Valuing Safety. The Commit to our Customers session reinforced the importance of our critical success factor of Commit to our Customers and involved a 1 hour 'toolbox style' session. The Valuing Safety sessions focus on reinforcing our Coates Way values and aligning them with building a culture of safety. This session will involve a 2 hour interactive session with employees across each business unit.


Engagement: happy to stay

Employee engagement measures the commitment employees have towards the business. Over recent years, employees have been invited to participate in annual surveys - the Best Employer Survey (for the last two years) and the Climate Survey (for the last four years). These provide Coates with a great opportunity to gain feedback from employees, allowing it to explore what makes it special and what areas it can improve upon in order to engage employees. Coates believes that by better understanding employees, it can target specific areas of the organisation and assist the business in becoming the hire company of first choice for employees.

The concept of engagement is central to the management of human resources at Coates. Essentially it involves having employees that, while having the option to leave, actually choose to stay. The company does not want employees who only stay because they feel they have nowhere else to go. Engagement at Coates is illustrated below.

The benefits of having engaged employees are clear: they will 'go the extra mile' for customers which will contribute to over all business success.

How does Coates rate itself in relation to levels of engagement? It benchmarks itself against other, similar businesses, including the best performers. This benchmarking process involves using a set of measures, applying them internally through its own 'Climate Survey' and then using them to compare performance with other companies. Diagram 1 shows the results of this benchmarking process.

The results show that Coates has achieved a solid level of engagement. In particular, the survey showed that Coates has performed better than other businesses in areas such as career opportunities, quality of work locations and work tasks. Some areas for improvement included work/life balance, recognition related activities and the physical work environment. The process of engagement at Coates is an ongoing journey as part of the Coates Way.

Let us briefly examine the drivers that will further improve engagement levels at the company.

Drivers of engagement

Coates, through its benchmarking, has identified the four biggest opportunities to further develop engagement. They are:

  • Recognition activities - employees are positively acknowledged for their efforts and performance
  • Brand alignment - the image that the company presents to customers should be reflected in the company culture (sometimes called the brand environment). Therefore if Coates is presenting itself to customers as a progressive and growing company that is committed to its customers, the atmosphere when working within the organisation should reflect this
  • Valuing people - showing people that their individual efforts are important and are recognised
  • Career opportunities - employees can move either horizontally or vertically within Coates.

The surveys also allowed Coates to measure the biggest threats to employee engagement. The management used these results to develop a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. This helps a company decide how to use the strengths and opportunities to offset the weaknesses and threats.

It is possible for the same factors to work for a business as both an opportunity and a threat. Coates identified that the business would be able to increase employee engagement by improving the ability to recognise and reward good performances by employees; however, this opportunity would become a threat to employee engagement if, having promised this, the business failed to deliver. The Coates Way is designed as a progressive and continuing approach to ensure that opportunities are not missed.


Develop our people: employee development at Coates

The Coates Way provides a firm direction for the business. In addition the HR department and the HR strategy and information on engagement contribute to the strategic and progressive development of employees. The business has established a framework to 'Develop our People', as one of the critical success factors.

To achieve this, the HR department developed the following guiding principles:

  • Intentional design where every program links back to the Coates Way, which is the decision-maker in whether projects go ahead
  • Set expectations (e.g. performance standards, Person to Position profiles, position descriptions) where employees are clear about the outcomes expected
  • Progressively build people capabilities from an individual level through training and development programs
  • Targeting and focusing efforts on development and performance management opportunities where high performers are rewarded and any skills gap is closed
  • That enhances Coates's capacity to deliver against our Critical Success Factors(all decisions, recruitment, employee goal setting etc should be taken with regards to helping the business achieving these successes).

Developing employees therefore concentrates on two areas - talent management and performance development. Coates has developed various training programs to aid this, such as Leadership Development Programs and Management Development programs, instructing employees in, for example, decision-making strategy and project management.



Coates, through the implementation of the Coates Way, is a company clearly focused on the future. In order to achieve its goal of becoming the $1 billion hire company it needs to fully develop and engage the potential of its employees. The Coates Way helps employees and management focus on what the business needs in order to achieve its vision and fulfil its purpose, whilst ensuring that employees have a challenging, meaningful and enjoyable experience at Coates. All strategies support the critical success factors that will lead it to the realisation of its vision for the business.


(Page 2 of 8)
Associated with:
Learning Area(s):
  • Business Environment | Developing organisational culture
  • Business Environment | Measuring business performance
  • Business Environment | Mission and Objectives
  • Change Management | Strategic planning
  • Employee Relations | Proactive employee relations
  • Human Resource Management | Employee Motivation
  • Human Resource Management | Human resource planning
  • Human Resource Management | Mission and objectives
  • Human Resource Management | Performance management
  • Human Resource Management | Training and development systems and programs
From: Edition 7

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